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There are many gay and transgender migrants trying to make their way to America through Mexico.  The journey has turned out to be quite dangerous.

The story in the Atlantic recounts the stories of Julio Campo and other displaced Latin@s.  Campo tells of a three night stay in a temporary shelter for migrants, where he was the target of "cold, lingering stares."

I felt like a joke, like I was immediately disliked.  It was just very uncomfortable and I wanted to get out quickly.

--Campo, a 30-year-old gay migrant from El Salvador

The free stopovers in Mexico for migrants are run by church officials, who are seeing increasing numbers of gay male and transgender female migrants.  Some are considering the possibility of separate shelters for the LGBT population.

 photo Gutierrez_zps6487cca2.jpg

We're seeing more and more transgender migrants and it's difficult for the migrant houses because they don't know where to place them.  The women say 'No, he is a man, I don't want him here,' and the men say, 'We don't want to be staying with a woman."

--Leticia Gutierrez Valderrama, executive secretary of the Pastoral de Movilidad Humana, a humanitarian branch of the Catholic Church that runs 66 migrant shelters

Thirty-six percent of transgender migrants who stayed in the shelters reported being the target of violence, as compared to 57% of transgender migrants who did not stay in the shelters according to a study by the Mexican National Institute of Public Health.  Transgender migrants account for approximately 3% of all the migrants.

In comparison 27% of female migrants who stayed in the shelters experienced violence, compared to 35% of female migrants who did not stay in the shelters.

Twenty percent of migrant men who stayed in the shelters experienced violence, compared to 21.3% who did not stay in the shelters.

The shelters and the state are not prepared to accommodate trans and gay migrants.  If a man arrives dressed like a woman, it can become a huge scandal for them and they really won't know how to register them or treat them.

 photo Lopez_zpse4d6e768.jpg--Rosember Lopez Samayoa, director of an HIV-prevention nonprofit organization, Una Mano Amiga en la Lucha Contra SIDA, or A Friendly Hand in the Fight Against AIDS, based in Tapachula, a small city just north of the porous Guatemala border

Tapachula is a vital stop along the migrant route.  Many migrants stop and work there for a time in order to have enough money to continue their journey to either the US or a larger Mexican city.

Una Mano Amiga en la Lucha Contra SIDA is the only group known to be working directly with gay and transgender migrantsThe migrants are fleeing from violence which is visited upon them in Honduras and Guatemala.  But the violence often follows them to Tapachula, where there were 8 reported murders of gay men and transwomen in the first 5 months of this year.

Migrants often do not come out as gay or transgender on their journey, knowing how much danger that could bring.  A new shelter in San Luis Potosi has an LGBT-friendly room which has been unused for more than two months.

In Tapachula Father Flor Maria Rigoni designated one corner of the men's dormitory for gay men and transwomen about 4 years ago when he began to notice groups of about 10 transwomen traveling together.  The shelter has some private rooms, but they are dedicated to families, pregnant women, and girls who have been trafficked.

We can put transgender, transsexual, transvestite or gay people in a separate area, but it is an open space and if you want to, you can go over there and then it can be hard to avoid problems, because there are problems.  We do not patrol the rooms at nighttime.


Campo says he was not aware of the LGBT-friendly area of Rigoni's shelter, but would not have considered the option anyway.
It's wrong to classify people.  The best thing to do would be to educate people.


Campo is no longer living in a shelter.  But the former hair-stylist was robbed along the Mexico/Guatemala border and is now working to earn enough to move to Mexico City to distance himself from his abusive ex-boyfriend.  He has applied for refugee status in Mexico while working in a roadside restaurant.
Campo says he isn't happy in Tapachula, where he thinks he could get killed for walking down the street holding hands with another man.  Still, it's better than El Salvador, where he says the police denied him protection from his threatening ex-boyfriend, who he learned had ties with an organized crime group.
I am very afraid of him and I don't want anything to happen to me.  I will never go back there.


Meanwhile the majority of transpeople in Mexico want to leave.
For trans people who do not have the support of their families, the majority of them want to leave, but it's not so easy, if they don't know how to read and write, or there is the question of English.  There is the fear of the migration itself -- the police they could encounter, the other migrants, other risks they could face along the way.  It's a lot to consider.

--Salvador Meta Ortiz, local LGBT activist who conducts HIV-prevention and treatment outreach through two nonprofit groups

Ten transwomen in Puebla said that the employment options for them in that state are limited to sex work and bar tending.  Few have the money or family support, like Maricela Moreno Ortega, to become hair stylists, which is considered to be the only other acceptable employment for transgender women across Mexico.

Puebla is one of 22 out of the 31 Mexican states that do not consider discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity to be illegal.  Transgender/transsexual people in Puebla do not have the right to change the gender on their ID cards or other official documents.

Mexico has the second highest rate of transgender murders in the world, behind only Brazil.

Some of those who say they have not considered leaving Mexico have already undergone an internal migration, reaching Puebla from nearby smaller towns, the coastal state of Veracruz or the northern state of Sonora, where transgenders can face even worse danger and restrictions.
Yokzana Martinez Balez transitioned at 15.  Her family reacted by kicking her out, so she left high school and went north to Sonora, where the only work she could find was as a sex worker.
I returned because it was very ugly there in the streets.


Yokzana is now 18 and works in a bar, but still does sex work occasionally to supplement her income.
I'd like to go to the U.S. and spend my life there and have a family.  My brothers migrated when I was young and are doing well there.  But it is much harder for a trans person to migrate.  I fear I will get killed if I go.


Gaby Morales Arellano was also kicked out of her family as a teenager after she began to publicly transitioned.  There life plan up until then had been to become a lawyer.  But her education had to be put on hold.  Since she couldn't find a steady job or support from her family, she also considered leaving Puebla and Mexico.
There is a lot of discrimination when you come out of the closet and you face all of these critics, first your family and your neighbors who say, 'Why is he like that?  He should be normal.'  My family thought they could beat me and correct me.

--Morales, who is now 35 and owns a hair salon

Morales says that relations with her family have now improved.
I took the same fear I felt and thought, 'I am going to use this emotion and take the situation by the horns and demonstrate that I can stay here and experience life as it comes.


Allison Castillo Luna is 24 and from Veracruz.  She left an unsupportive family to move to Puebla, where she splits her time between bartending and sex work.
I say to my friends who have migrated, 'Why are you going?  You want work?  Here there is work.  It's fine here.'

It's heavy work, there's no question.  When you go with a client you know with maybe 50 percent certainty that something bad is not going to happen to you, that that person is not homophobic or transphobic, that they will not have this instinct to kill you.


The three news stories to which this diary is linked were all written by Amy Lieberman, who is the UN correspondent for Women's eNews and is based in New York City, where she is masters candidate at Columbia.  Her reports from Mexico are funded in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Originally posted to TransAction on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 04:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by LGBT Kos Community and Voices on the Square.

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